By remarkable coincidence —or maybe divine planning —this gospel reading is as relevant and as urgent as this morning’s headlines.
In this passage from Mark’s gospel, a scribe asks Jesus to name the most important commandment. Jesus not only tells him that, but also tells him the second most important one, too.
And with good reason.
It’s because the two commandments are inseparable. Love of God, love of neighbor.
What Jesus is telling us here is that you cannot devote yourself fully to God —mind, heart, body, soul—and then neglect your neighbor.
You cannot spend all day gazing at the heavens in prayer, and then refuse to lower your eyes and look at your brothers and sisters around you.
Love your neighbor, Jesus says. Love him, in fact, as much as you love yourself.
Who are our neighbors? At this hour, our neighbors aren’t necessarily on Burns Street or Ascan Avenue. They may not even be in Forest Hills.
They are in Seaside Heights, and Rockaway. They live in places like Gerritsen Beach and Sheepshead Bay, Red Hook and Breezy Point.
They’re living on streets without names, in neighborhoods without signs, on blocks without buildings. They are keeping warm by lighting fires on patio grills, and collecting food and clothing and blankets from rescue workers.
These are our neighbors – these are our neighborhoods. This is New York City after the most devastating storm in modern memory.
You’ve heard the stories, seen the pictures. Father Passenant drove through some neighborhoods the other night and described it as “apocalyptic.” No power, no heat, no food, no fuel. Some people are living in darkness.
But for all that has been lost, some things remain.
People still have resilience. They have hope. Many continue to have faith.
And: they have us. They are not alone.
We cannot forget: we are a community of believers. And that, too, is part of Jesus’s message to the scribe. What Christ spent his life teaching and explaining—the parables he told and the example he set—wasn’t meant to be kept to ourselves.
It was meant to be shared. It was meant to be lived in the world.
It was meant to given away.
How can we do that? Especially now, how can we love our neighbors as ourselves?
At this weekend’s Masses, there is an opportunity. There will be a special collection for those who have been impacted by this storm. If you can’t give now, do it when you go home. When you get home, click on your computer and go to ccbq.org. Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens. There, you’ll find a special web page to donate, to find places to give, and learn how you can volunteer your time. Various charities are also collecting food, clothing, supplies — even baby clothes and formula.
Fundraisers are being planned around the country, benefits are being scheduled. That is just the beginning. You’ll be hearing more, I’m sure, in the days to come. A battered world now needs to be rebuilt. And the city will always need more hands – hands to build or to carry or to pray.
And as I mentioned on All Saints Day: if we do nothing else, all of us can pray.
One of the most powerful images of this storm was a photograph taken after the devastating fires in Breezy Point that destroyed over 100 homes. That picture showed a statue of the Blessed Mother, the last thing standing in a deserted block – a figure of sorrow and loneliness amid all that destruction. It really was a picture worth a thousand words.
This morning, the New York Daily News posted that picture again on its website. But this time, it was different. Someone had laid at Mary’s feet a bouquet of flowers. The neighborhood was demolished, and there wasn’t a sign of life anywhere. All was ruins. But in the middle of that, there was Mary and those flowers: a simple expression of faith, a sign of devotion and hope.
It was a beautiful and reassuring reminder: despite everything, faith survives.
The gospel today teaches us how important faith is—faith in God, and faith in one another.
Let us hold fast to that faith in the days to come, and pray that God will bring consolation and relief to those so desperately in need. We may not know their names. They may not live in the same zip code as we do.
But: they are our neighbors.
We can do no less than to pray for them, hope for them, reach out to them … and love them.